It is forbidden you to trade in slaves, be they men or women. It is not for him who is himself a servant to buy another of God’s servants, and this hath been prohibited in His Holy Tablet. Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í writings
You probably know that 2007 marks 200 years since a Parliamentary Bill was passed to abolish the slave trade in the then British Empire. You probably also know that slavery didn’t end right away. What you might not know is how many slaves there still are in the world today. 27 million. Mostly women and children. At least 2.4 million of them are trafficked. And quite a lot of the are living, if you can call it living, right here in the United Kingdom, the country that abolished the slave trade 200 years ago.
I have been looking at this because tomorrow I am supposed to be giving a talk about this. But because I have a prior engagement in Edinburgh to talk about terrorism, I have asked my husband to present the paper on slavery on my behalf.
But as I was researching the paper I got more and more angry. Here’s why:
* A 19-year-old girl from Lithuania thought she was coming to London on holiday with friends, only to find they were people traffickers who sold her into prostitution.
* A young woman from Romania was offered a job in the UK:
One day a friend of my stepfather stopped me in town and said that he knew we were struggling and that he could find me work in a restaurant if I wanted it – in the UK, with his son.
He said I would make up to £3,000 a month and my mother begged me to go. I knew that money would make a big difference to my family, so I agreed.
This man bribed the immigration officials to get me a fake passport, and I flew on my own the UK where I was met by his son. He was abusive immediately, slapping me and raping me as soon as we got to his house.
I was kept locked in the house for two weeks. He raped and slapped me every day. He also bought me make up and sexy clothes and made me watch sex films.
After two weeks he took me to my first brothel, where I was forced to have sex with men I did not know.
I had to work from 11am to 10pm every day, even during my periods, and I often had to give oral sex without a condom. I had to do my best because if the customer complained I would be beaten.
Sometimes they did not let me eat at night because they did not want me to get fat, so I was often hungry.
I was taken to a variety of brothels and saunas, but never allowed out alone. I did not try to escape; they threatened that they would inject me with drugs, or cut my sister’s hands and legs off if I did anything like that.
Eventually, the police raided the flat I was in, and I was taken into custody and then to the Poppy Project.
The sex trade is not the only bank of modern British slaves. Here is a report from the US State Department about us:
`The United Kingdom (UK) is primarily a destination country for women, children and men trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour. Some victims, however, are also trafficked within the country. The majority of victims are women trafficked internationally to the UK for sexual exploitation, though children are also trafficked to the UK for the same purpose. Migrant workers are trafficked to the UK for forced labour in agriculture, construction, food processing, domestic servitude, restaurants and possibly for illicit activities such as street theft. Children, particularly from West Africa, are also trafficked to the UK for forced labour in cannabis factories and Afghan minors may be trafficked for forced manual labour. Main sources of foreign trafficking victims found in the UK are Lithuania, Russia, Albania, Ukraine, Malaysia, Thailand, the People’s Republic of China, East and Central Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana.’ – US State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June, 2007
So, for example, a boy of 15 was trafficked from Vietnam to work in an illegal cannabis factory in an ordinary suburban house. Such factories are often owned by drug gangs who make the children work as `gardeners’ to pay off family debts. He had little control over his freedom. The conditions he worked in were very dangerous, with illegal electricity used to provide the plants with constant warmth and light causing serious risk of fire and electrocution. He was also subjected over a prolonged period to the intense, potentially lethal, fumes from the chemicals used in the factory.
When the factory was raided by police, he was arrested and referred to social services. However, he went missing in reception before his assessment and his whereabouts are now unknown.
The Joseph Rowntree Trust notes that `the UK has tended to address trafficking as an issue of migration control rather than one of human rights’. Often the victims are treated as the perpetrators and are themselves arrested, convicted and imprisoned, as was a woman from Sierra Leone, who
`came to the UK aged 11 after being befriended by a British man who told her he could help her find a school. Once in the UK, she was taken to a flat in London and not allowed out. When she was 12 she was drugged and gang raped.
`From that day on, she was forced to serve up to 10 men every day. When she attempted suicide aged 15, Sandra was moved to a separate location and locked in solitary confinement.
`A spokeswoman said, “This isolation and terror endured for a further five years with increased levels of physical violence at the hands of her pimp.”
`One morning the woan’s captor forgot to lock her bedroom door before leaving the house and she grabbed her chance and ran. She was later picked up by the police, who asked her for identification. When she was unable to produce any, she was arrested and later jailed for “immigration offences”. ‘
These stories come from the BBC the Poppy Project, a London-based government scheme which provides accommodation and support for enslaved women; the Joseph Rowntree Foundation; Slave Britain. The statistics come from the Home Office, the ILO, UNICEF, Save the Children, Anti-Slavery International and the US State Department country reports.
Slavery is officially banned internationally by all countries. So how is it there are 27 million slaves worldwide?
How is that there are 2.4 million trafficked slaves in the world today?
How is it that 218 million children are used for labour?
How is it that 126 million children work in especially horrific circumstances, including the virtual slavery of bonded labour – that is, one in 12 of every child between the ages of 5 and 17?
How is it that there are around 300,000 child soldiers involved in over 30 areas of conflict worldwide, some younger than 10 years old?
Bahá’ís say we are in this situation because we still do not have unity in the world. We still do not recognise the oneness of humanity. We still do not have a clue what human dignity is all about. We still do not understand the fundamental equality of women and men. We still think it is OK to use people for our own economic advantage or our own pleasure.
Acting in unity at the international level to stamp our slavery is, then, for Bahá’ís an imperative. Bahá’ís therefore welcome the appointment of a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery on 28 September this year, marking an historic step forward in the fight against all forms of slavery.
But for this step to be effective all governments need to extend an open invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur to visit their countries and by providing the Rapporteur with their full cooperation. Will this happen?
Check in 200 years from now . . .
You can also do something by joining the Trafficked Free Zone group on my Facebook. You can also join UNIFEM in the UK and help stamp it out!
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